Ed. This is an overview by Phil WestMany of the ideas in this article were inspired by conversations with Ed Sackett and Emery Nelson, so I'd like to thank both for their input and patience as sounding boards. All the errors and improbable flights of fancy are my own, however.
This article began as a discussion on armoured vehicles.
I decided that a good place to start would be to first consider the various missions a unit finds itself asked to do -not just the jobs that it is intended to do, but all the ones that it usually ends up more often doing, such as convoy escort, peacekeeping or counter insurgency.
While this began as an article on vehicle types, a theme that has constantly arisen is that this is only one aspect of the story, and that many types need to exist in more than one weight class. A formation of modern Main Battle Tanks can take considerable punishment, but become vulnerable if it losses its infantry support or close air-defences. These elements are often mounted on light vehicles that will not survive long if they operate alongside the tanks where they may be most needed. Lighter forces often lack the support of heavy tanks or self propelled artillery, so need alternative systems that provide them with similar capabilities.
It is probably in the category of medium armour that the modern army is most lacking. Many AFVs are too wide or too heavy to use many bridges or access routes, limiting their strategic and tactical mobility. Light forces often lack sufficient firepower and protection. The majority of medium vehicle needs could be met by three basic hull types:- an APC style hull with capacity to carry an infantry squad; a slightly smaller hull that can carry a fireteam sized dismount unit; and a low hulled vehicle that can mount large turrets. The team carrier would be used for roles that do not require a full sized APC. These include Command vehicle, FIST/FAC vehicle, weapons carrier, patrol vehicle, ATGW launcher, scout-attack vehicle, RSTA/reconnaissance and carrier of SAM systems such as the Stinger/Avenger.
General features of all vehicles.
Infantry Carrying Vehicles.
Many of the duties that a formation may be asked to perform will fall to mechanised infantry.
Even in jungle or mountainous terrain such a force will have a requirement for armoured systems to patrol roadways and provide fire support in urban operations.
Many roles such a unit would find itself performing would involve small unit operations or a high likelihood of being ambushed from any direction. There is therefore a requirement for vehicles that individually have a good level of protection and armament. For this reason it is important that many of the unit's Personnel Carriers be configured as Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV).
The role of the Infantry Fighting Vehicle is often misunderstood. They are not light tanks with passenger seats, nor are they a sort of mobile pillbox from which the infantry can fight. Like any other personnel carrier their primary role is the transportation of FOOTSOLDIERS. What armament they have is intended for defence or to support the operations of dismounted infantry. Many Western IFVs lack a sufficient assortment of different weapon types to effectively do this, which is why IFVs are sometimes dismissed as being no more effective in practice than machine gun armed APCs.
An IFV needs to have weaponry sufficient to give it an anti-tank/vehicle, anti-personnel and demolition capability.
There are several ways to do this but one of the simplest is to arm the vehicle with a light cannon, machine gun(s), ATGWs and a pod of unguided rockets
The cannon would probably be a 30 x 113mm weapon with Programmable Priming (PP). A PP-HEDP round should be suitable for most targets. The airburst capability would be useful against infantry or for firing over entrenchments. In the anti-material role it will also allow the warhead to explode at optimum stand-off distance. A "mortar shell" could be used for high trajectory shots. This would have just enough propellant to cycle the action, the rest of the case being taken up by the warhead. Both the PP fused 30mm ammo and 30mm "mortar" shells already exist or are in trial phase.
The co-axial Machine Gun will probably be a 7.62mm weapon, though it could also be the .50 Hose firing flechettes and saboted penetrator rounds.
The Rockets would probably be based on the 2.75" FFAR, but have a fast burning motor to give them a high initial velocity and short minimum range. Rockets with flechette warheads will have capability against personnel and helicopters.
The ATGW system will have one, preferably two missiles ready to launch. This could be TOW, but a higher velocity weapon with some anti-helicopter capability will be better. It is also possible that the vehicle could carry a mix of terminally guided, fire and forget and top attack munitions.
The ATGW tubes could also launch an unguided rocket with a HEAT-MP-Frag or HESH warhead and a fast-burning motor for high acceleration. The Missile Launcher rockets fill a similar tactical role to Recoilless rifles, being intended for close range anti-tank and demolition. Fired at higher trajectories they may have a useful longer range role.
The mountings for the rocket packs and ATGW tubes could be constructed as pylon mounts, so a variety of other configurations are possible. At least one vehicle in each infantry company will probably carry a pod of Stinger-type SAMs. Other weapons such as mini-guns, smoke-laying GMGs or flame-projectors are also possible.
The Hull of such an Infantry Fighting vehicle will mount a standard 9 man squad, although preferably the vehicle will have room to carry 11 men, in the manner of the current M113. This offers the Platoon leader greater flexibility to allocate personnel such as FO teams or other specialists. As well as a rear access door, the vehicle should also be equipped with roof hatches and firing ports.
Infantry Fighting Vehicles will probably exist in several different grades. At one end of the scale will be vehicles light enough to be airdropped, preferably with the crew in position. Modular armour systems will allow protection to be increases later. At the other end of the scale will be heavily armoured Tank Personnel Carriers (TPCs).
Tank Personnel Carriers.
During World War 2, Commonwealth forces created Armoured Personnel Carriers from tank hulls. Since the first unit to do this was Australian these vehicles were given the generic name of Kangaroos. Both the Russians and the Israelis have taken this idea further by creating IFVs bases on MBT hulls. It is likely that most of the mechanised infantry in a division will be mounted on conventional light or medium carriers and TPCs used by a formation that specialises in close infantry support for tank formations.
Direct Fire Support Vehicles.
Gun equipped Direct fire vehicles or Mobile Gun Systems (MGS) will also probably be fielded in several grades. Heavy armour is already well represented, but lighter systems are also needed.
A configuration that I suggest for Light and Medium vehicles I call MAGAMAS (Mobile Armoured Gun And Missile Armed System). This is a vehicle equipped with a direct fire gun, such as the L7 105mm and several ATGW launchers.. The vehicle also has a light cannon (30mm) to conserve main gun ammo. Ideally the turret will be unmanned and operated by the crew in the hull. The turret also mounts a mast mounted sight/sensor system.
One option is to have the cannon and MG both mounted on a smaller turret, one on either side of the main weapon. These can either be locked forward to fire co-axially or can traverse independently, useful in close terrain were attacks can come from several directions in a short space of time.
The smaller calibre of the main gun allows more rounds to be carried while having the ATGWs as an independent system allows simpler upgrading of the main anti-tank system.
A Medium MAGAMAS of around 40-50 tons would be similar to the Centurion, while a light model would be around 20 tons.
Vehicle Hunters have ATGWs as their main armament, but should also be armed with light or medium cannon for the cost effective destruction of lighter vehicles. The lightest Vehicle Hunters should have a weapon such as the 30 x 113mm ASP, while heavier systems could have 57mm guns or the 30mm RARDEN, (possibly reconfigured to use 30 x 173mm ammo).
Hunter vehicles will exist in several grades, ranging from light HMMWVs to tank like hulls. The latter "Heavy Hunters" may have armour sufficient to allow them to take a more aggressive role ie. To be fighters as well as snipers.
The assault gun configuration allows a large gun to be mounted on a relatively small, low hull. The main advantage of assault guns, however, is they are primarily regarded as an infantry support weapon, and free tanks for other duties.
Assault guns are a supplement to tanks, not a replacement. A WW2 Panzer division would have both tank and assault gun battalions.
A modern assault gun would probably be based on a light or medium hull such as the M113 or M2.
Any modern assault gun should be equipped with an IFV style turret to provide all round defence and fire against higher level targets such as anti-tank teams on upper stories.
There are several likely armament options for the main gun:-
Assault Guns in Defence.
When an infantry force is dug in assault guns will probably operate in a semi-static role. This is very much the classic tank destroyer role but the provision of the IFV turret also allows the vehicle to act as a strongpoint againts infantry and other threats. In the defensive role assault guns may deploy on the reverse side of a ridge. From such a position the IFV turret provides a useful vantage point to "peek" over the ridge.
The assault gun configuration may allow the main armament to be fired at a higher elevation than is possible from a tank turret, so an assault gun may also have an indirect fire role. In such a role provision should be made to load the gun via a hatch so the on board ammo store can be preserved.
The assault gun is basically the equivalent to the British wartime concept of infantry tanks. One of the most useful variants of the infantry tank was the Churchill Crocodile flame-thrower tank. Like the Crocodile a flamethrowing assault gun should carry the bulk of its FT fuel in a jettisonable trailer. Using such a trailer allowed the crocodile to carry a decent number of main gun rounds too, so once the flamethrower fuel was used up the vehicle could continue to fight as a conventional tank.
An assault gun may also need increased smoke laying capability, possibly a Mk-19 loaded with WP rounds.
Assault Gun Support Vehicles.
Assault gun platoons should also include Assault gun support vehicles. These will resemble IFVs but carry extra rounds for the assault gun instead of infantry. These vehicles have several functions:-
Close-ADA vehicles should mount guns as well as SAMs and have sufficient armour, secondary armament and defensive systems to allow them to operate as infantry support platforms. Such vehicles will prove useful for convoy escort, urban operations or many other situations where targets may be found at high elevations.
A heavy version of the close-ADA vehicle is needed to operate alongside MBTs and TPCs.
To quote FM17-98
"The CFV platoon, equipped with six M3 CFVs, is found in the cavalry squadrons of an armored or mechanized division or in an armored cavalry regiment; it is also found in certain mechanized battalions, specifically in the 3rd Infantry Division.
The HMMWV platoon comprises 10 M1025/1026 HMMWVs. It is found in light cavalry regiments, in air cavalry and reconnaissance squadrons, and in mechanized infantry and armor battalions."
It might be argued that the reverse would be the wiser course, since a light formation has less armour to deal with an enemy that penetrates its screening force, so needs a strong screening force.
Although scout units are supposed to be eyes and ears rather than fists, it is inevitable that they will be used as combat units, particularly when other armoured vehicles are not available. Because of their mobility Reconnaissance formations are useful exploitation forces and an obvious choice when a unit needs fast reinforcement
There is probably no single "ideal" reconnaissance vehicle. In the pre-mechanised age most armies found it prudent to field Hussars as well as Cuirassiers.
One vehicle type that would be very useful would be a terrestrial equivalent of the OH-6 scout-attack helicopter.
Such a vehicle would be a well armed IFV with the capacity to take a half squad dismount team. In place of the dismount team this capacity could also be used for sensors, drones or additional ammo.
For Heavy formations, the M2/3 Bradley nearly meets these criteria. Given a pod of FFAR rockets to increase its demolition capabilities the Bradley would be an excellent reconnaissance platform.
For air-mobile formations I'm thinking of a vehicle along the lines of a cross between the Wiesel and Spartan, equipped with the same turret described under IFVs.
Each vehicle would be supported by bike or motorbike mounted scouts. Many reconnaissance missions are better served by a man on a bike with a radio and a pair of field glasses or a thermal imager.
Each reconnaissance squadron should have a "Heavy Troop" equipped with light or medium MAGAMAS vehicles armed with 105mm guns and ATGW tubes.
Combat Engineer Vehicles (CEV).
Good engineering support can be a key element in the success of military operations. A possible armament for a CEV is the 152mm Gun-Launcher of the M551, equipping the CEV with a potent demolition weapon with anti-tank capabilities. This would be supplemented by machine guns and light cannon.
120mm Mortar Carrier.
A turreted breech-loading self-propelled mortar also has the capability to be a useful direct fire vehicle too. It should therefore be fitted with suitable armour, secondary weapons and defensive systems.
Because it is a low pressure weapon a gun-mortar could fire a thin walled high capacity HE or HESH shell -a "mine shell" that would prove a useful demolition weapon.
A mortar carrier so configured would be termed an "Assault Mortar" to reflect its increased potential. Such vehicles may be under brigade control and allocated as either artillery or armour.
81mm Mortar Carrier.
Although the 120mm mortar is a potent weapon and very much in vogue, the 81mm mortar will remain an essential system.
In certain environments a force may have no choice but to conduct missions on foot, and in such situations the 81mm mortar is ideal. The 81mm also has a shorter minimum range for indirect fire, making it more suitable for company support operations.
It has been suggested that 120mm SP-Mortars should carry 81mm or even 60mm tubes for dismounted use, but the wisdom of having two different calibres of ammo on the same vehicle is questionable. More sensible is to have dedicated 81mm mortar carriers, possibly equipped with both muzzle loaded tubes and turreted gun-mortars.
As well as having potential as a direct fire vehicle such a configuration offers other possibilities. If the tactical situation allows and manpower is available, the M252 mortar can be set up along side the vehicle and both mortars fired at once. A three vehicle platoon could therefore bring six mortars to bear on a target, with a rate of fire in excess of 180 rounds per minute.
Modern Self Propelled Guns and Howitzers are heavy fully enclosed vehicles with powered full traverse turrets. Effective though these vehicles are, they are not easy to heli-transport or airlift.
The earliest self propelled guns were made by placing field guns on open topped tank hulls. The idea of creating assault guns by placing a weapon such as the 105mm light gun on the flatbed of a cargo carrying M113 has already been suggested by other writers. It may also be possible to do this with the lighter forms of towed 155mm. Such a system could even be heli-lifted as two separate loads.
Similar "portee" guns were used in WW2 North Africa and were usually made by placing an antitank gun on a truck. It was found necessary to provide protection for the gun crew -in addition to the weapon's gun shield the flatbed of the truck needed armoured sides too. The Gun shield could be constructed to provide some overhead protection too. Even with these protections such a combination would not be as effective as a true assault gun so such weapons would best be used in a standoff role or for indirect fire only.
In certain situations it may not be practical to deploy heavy ordinance, so it may be prudent for all artillerymen to be cross trained as mortar crewmen. This could be easily done by using mortars as training weapons for rookie artillery crews.
At present MBRLs systems are mainly seen in the west as long range weapons to replace systems such as the 203mm M110. This does not realise the full potential of these weapons.
. Two vehicles mounting a MBRL system should accompany each battery of SP howitzers, guns or 155mm mortars. These allow the battery to also provide rapid high volume fire if it is needed, and the range of the rocket system should be matched to that of the tube artillery that they accompany. This will offer a commander a choice of either saturation or sustained indirect fire.
A unit of 155mm Howitzers would therefore also have Magyars each mounting 40x122mm rockets similar to those used with the Russian BM-21.
For a battery equipped with 155mm mortars the complimentary MBRL system might be light enough to mount directly on the mortar carriers or on trailers towed by them.
Many of the vehicle types already described are capable of mounting pods of 2.75" FFAR. These systems can supplement or even replace mortar fire for medium range bombardment. ATGW launchers can also provide support by firing Missile launcher rockets.
Another weapon that will increase the indirect fire capability of even a light formation is the 155mm mortar, preferably mounted on an air-portable tracked chassis such as the M113.
Due to their weight and the tendency of the base-plate to take root, large mortars are best used in a self-propelled form, fired from a truck bed or the floor of an APC . This will be an indirect fire only system. As the weapon is breech loaded the fighting compartment can be protected by a very low cover or turret. The 155mm mortar vehicle could be a very light weapon system with most of the vehicle's weight being from the ammo load. The 155 mortar carrier is therefore capable of going nearly anywhere and killing nearly anything. 155mm mortars should prove to be lighter than howitzers and easier to manufacture.
When carried by a heavy lift helicopter, such a vehicle can provide an indirect fire capability to units that are otherwise entirely mounted on helicopters. This may allow ADA to be suppressed without exposing aircraft to fire.
An interim design of 155mm mortar could be created by fitting 160mm smoothbore weapons with new barrels or rifled inserts.
Other Vehicle variants.
The Red Cross symbol of Medevac vehicles should be constructed like a shuttered window, so the emblem can be concealed when camouflage requires this. The cross and its background should be of light-reflective materials rather than just being painted, and a white spotlight should be fitted to each emblem for night operations. Emblems should also be visible by night vision equipment.
Similar shuttered emblems may also be used by other vehicles to identify themselves to close air support.
Armoured ladder carrier.
This is a resembles a bridge carrier but has a ladder/ramp with ventral and side armour. It is would used in street fighting to access the higher levels of buildings through windows or shell holes. This system would be more stable on sloped streets than the proposed "VAMP" system and would allow more troops to enter and opening.
Armoured water cannon vehicle.
This is used against unwanted fires during MOUT. It could also be used for riot control. Basic vehicle can be adapted to be an armoured flame-thrower.
Both the armoured ladder carrier and water cannon vehicle would form part of a MOUT support company. This unit will also have some form of demolition gun -this may be a CEV, MGS or MAGAMAS vehicle or an Assault gun or mortar.
Escort and Patrol vehicles.
An important element of all military missions is to maintain lines of communication and supply. Because of the importance and special demands of this role consideration should be given to the formation of specialist Escort and Patrol Companies.
For a formation that will be deployed anywhere in the world, and usually at short notice, it is only logical that the majority of AFVs be equipped with light tracks. This allows the formation to operate in the broadest range of terrains and climates with the minimum of preparation. Vehicles for an Escort and Patrol unit may need to be wheeled so that they can maintain a high cruising speed and their presence not slow down the vehicles they are protecting.
In many armies it is usual to give wheeled AFVs a lower level of armament than tracked ones. For the vehicles of the Escort and Patrol companies the reverse may be the case. The higher likelihood of ambush and reduced availability of support will require a higher level of organic firepower, and systems such as laterally and rear mounted machine guns, dischargers and firing ports.
In addition to wheeled IFVs Escort companies may also require wheeled versions of mortar carriers, flak carriers and Mobile Gun Systems or MAGAMAS.
A vehicle that would be useful to Escort companies and other forces such as air-motorised units is a HMMWV variant I term the Hammer-vee. This is a HMMWV that only carries a fire team sized dismount formation and uses the weight saved to carry additional armour and armament. A platoon would be mounted on six Hammer-vees.
This is an APC hull mounting an MGS or MAGAMAS turret and is intended as a highly mobile support system during FIBUA. As well as providing fast reinforcement the MOUTer can also evacuate civilians or ferry personnel, supplies and equipment. The MOUTer will probably be a wheeled vehicle and turret armament options include 76 or 90mm guns or 81mm Gun-mortars.
The MOUTer will be issued to MP units and specialist FIBUA support or Riot control forces. It may also have role as a convoy escort.
Road convoys are a common target in many forms of conflict. Whilst variants of personnel carriers, ADA and direct fire vehicles can be built that will provide ground and air defence without slowing the column down, individual vehicles will still need to be resistant to small arms and mines.
The Armtruck has a cabin sharing many features with Armoured Fighting Vehicles, but the rest of the vehicle is based on a mine protected truck chassis. Most likely configuration is a flatbed, though other variants are possible. A flatbed Armtruck should be able to carry Pillow tanks, pallets or standard cargo containers.
One special load is an Infantry Carrying Container (ICC), which converts the Armtruck into a cheap personnel carrier suitable for escorting convoys of other Armtrucks. This allows track mounted or Low-Mech infantry to be used to escort convoys.
The ICC has armour, firing ports and seating for at least a squad. Hatches are provided at the rear and on the roof, and possibly the sides and the floor too.
The ICC mounts at least one dorsal turret armed with heavy machine guns, light cannon or rocket packs. The ICC is also equipped with smoke dischargers and anti-ambush batteries.
The basic ICC lends itself to several variants. A mortar can be fired through the roof, although for ambush situations a battery of rifle grenades or mortar bombs may be more useful than a conventional tube.
The Gunbus is a ICC mounting more armament and less personnel. It is used to provide supporting fire for dismounted infantry. An ICC can also be used to mount anti-aircraft cannon, which can also be used for local defence.
Armtrucks carrying ICCs may be disguised as Armtrucks carrying normal loads.
An ICC on its own can be used as a sort of "Armoured Pre-fab" as the basis of a static position. In this role the ICC may be heli-lifted into position.
Armtrucks can also be used to mount MBRL systems, 155mm Mortars or 105mm Light Guns.
Phil West firstname.lastname@example.org